Anatomy of a Cycling Championship

Posted: May 3, 2006

In the sport of cycling, good strategy is as important as strength and endurance. Anyone who has watched Lance Armstrong compete in the Tour de France knows that the lead changes many times during a race and winning often depends upon timing, positioning, and avoiding crashes.

Metzi Anderson '08 went into Eastern Collegiate Cycling Conference Championships at Cornell April 28-29 leading 83 other Women's B competitors by 16 points. This made her the rider to beat. There are three opportunities to score individual points on the championship weekend: a 36-mile road race, a 30-minute criterium (track race), and a series of sprint points awarded to the top four riders at various times during the criterium. Riders know when sprint points are up for grabs when a bell is rung indicating that the top four riders across the finish line during that lap will score "premium points." Everyone in the field then makes a mad dash for the finish line.

Anderson's three closest challengers were from Division 1 schools. However, on the championship weekend double points are awarded, thereby giving racers further down in the standings a better opportunity to catch the leaders. Saturday's "Road Race" was a grueling 36 miles featuring two, mile-long, 11 percent grade climbs. Coming from Vermont, Anderson has great confidence in climbing hills, so when Erica Lorenzen of Yale took off early Anderson went with her and the two women never looked back. At the finish line the third-place rider was over seven minutes off the winning pace. Anderson finished the road race in second place capturing 84 points and narrowing her list of potential challengers to two.

Sunday's criterium was flat and fast with what seemed like a never-ending series of left-hand turns. When large numbers of cyclists ride together on a tight course there is always the danger of a crash. Mechanical failure resulting from the constant pressure that high-speed turns have on tires is also a major concern. One blowout at high speed can take down a whole field of riders. Since either one of these risks could have jeopardized Anderson's lead, she made the decision to invest her energy early in the race when least expected and lock in as many sprint points as possible. Point calculations indicated that two firsts and a third would statistically guarantee the championship and eliminate any possibility of Murphy's Law. Determined to capture the title, Anderson led the pack through each of the first three sprints and then rode much of the balance of the race under the protection of her teammate Frances Morrison '09. The race itself was won by University of New Hampshire and Harvard riders not in contention for the season championship, which further increased Anderson's lead in the point standings.

The top three of 84 Women's B competitors this season were Anderson of Mount Holyoke (377 points), Fiona Madeley of the University of Vermont (295 points), and Morgan Robinson of Yale (237 points).

Related Link:

Mount Holyoke Cycling Club Member Places in Nationals - June 2005